Actress. Born Maureen FitzSimons, on August 17, 1920, in Ranelagh, Ireland. The second oldest of six children, Maureen was raised in a close-knit Irish Catholic family. Her father, Charles, was a businessman, and her mother, Marguerite, was an accomplished stage actress and opera singer. Maureen displayed a penchant for dramatics at an early age when she staged presentations for her family; in school she was active in singing and dancing.
While still in her early teens, Maureen enrolled at Dublin’s prestigious Abbey Theatre School, where she studied drama and music. Upon her graduation in 1937, she was offered a lead role with the Abbey Players, but instead she decided to try her hand at film acting. She then moved to London, where she screen tested for an English feature. Although the film was never produced, her impressive audition caught the attention of Oscar-winning movie star and producer Charles Laughton. After convincing Maureen to change her surname to O’Hara, Laughton helped launch Maureen’s career by recommending her for the role of the orphaned Mary Yelland in Alfred Hitchcock’s British-made film Jamaica Inn (1939). Although the film met with lackluster reviews, O’Hara was noted for her convincing performance.
Under the tutelage of Laughton, O’Hara signed a contract with RKO Studios in 1939. She moved to Hollywood in the summer of that year, making her American film debut as the alluring gypsy Esmeralda (opposite Laughton’s Quasimodo) in RKO’s lavish production The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
In 1941, O’Hara gave a haunting performance as the Welsh daughter of a mining family in the drama How Green Was My Valley, which marked her first collaboration with legendary director John Ford. The film triumphed at the Oscars, winning top honors in five categories, including Best Picture and Best Director.
While fulfilling contract commitments with both RKO Studios and 20th Century-Fox, O’Hara was billed alongside Hollywood’s leading men in a slew of swashbuckling features. Among the most notable were 1942’s The Black Swan (with Tyrone Power), 1947’s Sinbad the Sailor (with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.), and 1949’s Bagdad (with Vincent Price). In between action films, O’Hara was assigned a role in the 1947 holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street, in which she played a single working mother whose strong rational beliefs are challenged by Santa Claus.
During the 1940s and 1950s, O’Hara was repeatedly cast as the heroine in elaborate Technicolor features. Her strong-willed characters, which were complimented by her fiery red hair, green eyes, and peaches and cream complexion, earned her the nickname “Queen of Technicolor.” O’Hara gave saucy performances in adventures like Buffalo Bill (1944), The Spanish Main (1945), The Flame of Araby (1951), and The Redhead From Wyoming (1952).
In 1950, O’Hara entered a new phase of her career when she was cast as John Wayne’s estranged wife in John Ford’s romantic Western Rio Grande. O’Hara shared great screen chemistry with Wayne and served as his leading lady in a succession of films over the next few years. Also under Ford’s direction, Wayne and O’Hara starred in the lyrical drama The Quiet Man (1952) and in the critically panned The Wings of Eagles (1957).
In the early 1960s, O’Hara shifted her career focus. She showcased her attractive singing voice in a series of television appearances, record albums, and the Broadway musical Christine (1960). Later that year, she was featured as the extravagant daughter of a vacuum cleaner salesman (played by Alec Guinness) in the offbeat film adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel Our Man In Havana. A number of lighter roles in family comedies followed, including the 1961 Hayley Mills vehicle The Parent Trap, 1962’s Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (with James Stewart), and 1970’s How Do I Love Thee? (with Jackie Gleason).
In 1971, O’Hara reunited with long-time friend and costar John Wayne in the comedy Big Jake (1971), which marked her last feature film in over two decades. Shortly after, O’Hara retired to St. Croix, Virgin Islands with her third husband, aviator Charles F. Blair, whom she married in 1968. Upon Blair’s death in 1978, O’Hara briefly assumed her late husband’s position as president of Antilles Airboats (a Caribbean commuter airline). She also wrote a general interest column for the tourist magazine The Virgin Insider.
Following a 20-year hiatus, O’Hara returned to film acting with a role in the bittersweet comedy Only the Lonely (1991). For the remainder of the 1990s, she landed parts in a string of television movies, including The Christmas Box (1995) and Cab to Canada (1998). Most recently, she starred as a retired high school teacher in the TV movie The Last Dance (2000).
O’Hara was briefly married to George Hanley Brown in 1938 (their marriage was annulled in 1941). Later that year, she wed director William Price. The couple had a daughter, Bronwyn Price, before they divorced in 1953. O’Hara’s third marriage to aviator Charles F. Blair ended tragically when Blair died in a plane crash on September 2, 1978. Blair held the notable distinction of being the first pilot to make a solo flight over the Arctic Ocean and the North Pole.
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